The first phase of the Bayport Container Terminal will open in August. Bayport Chief Engineer Mark Vincent says this will be about the most efficient cargo terminal you can imagine.
"We're going to be opening with 60 acres of container yard and altogether about 90 acres that have been constructed, counting the wharf and the gate and the support facilities. But within six months, we plan to award the contract for the construction of the next 50 acres of container yard. We are in the process of designing the third berth and the next 50 acres of container yard after that."
The terminal will be built out over the next 15-20 years and will increase container capacity by 200 percent. Construction started two years ago, after a lengthy debate over the environmental and community impact of the project. Nancy Edmonson is the mayor of Shoreacres, a small community about a mile up the road from Bayport. She says residents worried about the noise, traffic, pollution and impact on property values.
"And over the last two years since construction started, all of our worst fears are coming true. This past year when we got our property values from Harris County Appraisal District was the first time we've ever had a drop in property values."
The Port of Houston Authority has purchased hundreds of acres of wetlands to help mitigate the environmental impact of construction, and Vincent says they're attempting to make Bayport as unobtrusive as possible to the surrounding communities.
"We have worked very hard with the social impacts to minimize the impact on the community. From our master plan, we relocated certain parts because there were complaints that it might bring truck traffic too close say to the little village of El Jardin. We've moved those facilities. We're constructing the berms at the cost of many, many millions of dollars to try to isolate, both visually and sound, from the communities to the south and to the east."
But Edmondson says most of the mitigation efforts are to the south and east, and her community is to the north where the noise and dust floats across the bay, directly through her neighborhood.
"Unfortunately, we have very little recourse. We can attempt to work with them, but the Port of Houston does not have a good reputation of working with its other neighbors. Unfortunately that's the reason we oppose them so much, because we are afraid -- they've never been a good neighbor before, why do we think they would start now? And in fact, they have not."
Port officials say the noise and dust levels comply with strict environmental requirements and they add a project of this magnitude will never please everyone. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.